Landscape Photography – More Neutral Density Filter Magic

Remember the days before Photoshop? When the photographer used his skill and experience to capture an image even though the scene was far beyond the film’s dynamic range? When “post” (post capture processing) meant pushing or pulling during film development or dodging and burning during enlargement? When a graduated neutral density filter could span the four or five stop difference between the foreground and the sky? When the photographer spent hour after glorious hour behind the camera, trying out different color filters, different speed film stock and different exposure combinations in his or her quest for a decent image?

In some ways I miss those days and find myself now spending more and more time trying to get back to my photographic roots. No, I don’t miss the cost, mess and hassle of film development and darkroom work, but I do miss the time spent behind the camera working on various techniques to perfect my craft. These days I seem to spend four hours in Lightroom and Photoshop for every hour behind the camera. I’ll be the first to admit it. I love digital imagery but not the tedium of post capture processing. Sorting and keywording is obviously important but boring beyond belief. Processing RAW files into finished JPEGs is more interesting but after a while, even the allure of CS4 begins to fade.

Take this image for example. I could have spent hours using various Lightroom/Photoshop techniques creating an acceptable image from a RAW file where the dynamic range of the scene far exceeded my camera’s capabilities. Yes, I could have bracketed three to seven exposures and blended these into an HDR image in Photomatix. Or I could employ a simple 4-stop, soft, graduated neutral density filter to tame this scene’s dynamic range to show the incredible cloud cover over these rolling hills in central Texas on a hot July afternoon. It took me four or five exposures before I got the image I wanted “in camera”, but the resultant RAW file took only seconds to process in Lightroom before the scene looked as I remembered it.

Here’s the important part! I enjoyed creating this image “in camera” much more than I usually do with images I have to “fix” in Lightroom or Photoshop. It took longer to capture this image but far less time to post process and for me, the enjoyment of photography is being behind the camera looking through the viewfinder.

Packsaddle Mountain

Clouds Over Packsaddle Mountain – Kingsland, Texas
Copyright © 2009 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 50D set on aperture priority (Av) using an EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM tripod-mounted. The exposure was taken at 47mm, f/11 for 1/200th of a second using a Singh-Ray 4-Stop/Soft graduated neutral density filter. Shot at ISO 100 on Sandisk digital film and post capture processed in Lightroom 2. Click on the image above for a larger version.

8 thoughts on “Landscape Photography – More Neutral Density Filter Magic

  1. Those are beautiful clouds indeed.

    Though I enjoy doing minor touchups in Lightroom/PS,
    I totally agree with what you said: the enjoyment of photography is being behind the camera!

    Far too often I have this feeling that many, if not most of the photos posted on the net are heavily (over)edited.

  2. Very nice focus on the clouds in this comp. The GNDs certainly do work in many situations. I know I jumped in to defend HDR in an earlier post but I must say that I also carry GND filters as well as a Vari-ND so I go both ways.

    • Hey Ed,

      Nice to hear from you again. Don’t get me wrong. I do understand and use HDR when the scene is beyond what’s possible “in camera” and I believe Photomatix is a great tool when used “properly”. It’s just the amount of time spent tweaking images in Lightroom, Photoshop and Photomatix that I object to personally. I’m sure as my skill level with CS4 improves, my post processing speed and enjoyment will increase but right now I struggle to find the right balance between working behind the camera and on the computer.


  3. The creative use of ND filters, for me, has always beaten the look of HDR, even though I use it (mostly when I forget my ND filters). For a ‘song?’ Where did you get those filters, Ray?

  4. The sky is wonderful in this and on the advice of your other posts on the subject I scored two tiffen ND grads this week for a song. Off to the North Cascades this weekend to give them a tryout. Thanks Jeff for the posts on this.

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